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Jordan ‘an exemplary host country’ for Syrian refugees — UN official

WFP says food insecurity a major challenge for refugees amid pandemic

By Batool Ghaith - Mar 16,2021 - Last updated at Mar 16,2021

Being the second largest host of refugees per capita in the world, Jordan has been ‘an exemplary host country’ for Syrian refugees for the last decade, providing safety and security to those who need it the most, a UN official said (Photo courtesy of UN)

AMMAN — Being the second largest host of refugees per capita in the world, Jordan has been “an exemplary host country” for Syrian refugees for the last decade, providing safety and security to those who need it the most, a UN official said.

Speaking during a virtual press conference, United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Jordan Anders Pedersen said: “It’s fair to say that the level of hospitality demonstrated by Jordan, the government, and all Jordanians is absolutely unprecedented. I think it serves as a role model for countries around the world.”

The UN in Jordan held the press conference with the Representatives of key UN agencies who are working with refugees to discuss the challenges faced by the 660,000 registered Syrian refugees in Jordan as the conflict in Syria marks its 10th year.

“I’d like to also acknowledge the level of support provided by our partners, whom we often call the donors, but are really our partners. Without them, we would never have been able to, as international community, respond in the way that we have done, and I think that is truly acknowledged by the government of Jordan as well,” Pedersen said.

The Jordan Response Plan over the past years consisted of a strategic partnership mechanism for the development of a comprehensive refugee, resilience-strengthening and development response to the impact of the Syrian crisis on Jordan and it was essential for mobilising funds to support vulnerable refugees and host Jordanian households, Pedersen added.

However, there is a need to secure additional funding, particularly given the unprecedented COVID pandemic crisis and its impact on the continuation of humanitarian operations and developmental work in Jordan, he noted.

“The pandemic has affected access to basic services, such as health and education, as well as having impact on the labour market. The past year has also witnessed an increase in gender-based violence cases, unfortunately,” Pedersen said. 

Citing World Bank figures, Pedersen highlighted that in Jordan, the COVID crisis is estimated to have increased poverty by around 38 percentage points (p.p.) among Jordanians. Among Syrians, the majority of whom are refugees, poverty has increased by 18 p.p. since many were already living below the poverty line prior to the pandemic. According to projections, increased poverty will continue well into 2021, even when the effects of only the first wave of the pandemic are considered.

“The United Nations has developed the Socio-Economic Framework for COVID-19 response in Jordan and defined five ‘accelerators’ to recover better, equity and inclusiveness, an integral gender focus to guide us in addressing both new and pre-existing gender gaps and structural inequities, digital transformation, sustainability and preparedness and prevention,” Pedersen noted.

“As we look forward to continuing providing basic services, we need to find sustainable solutions to not only scale up our collective efforts, but also expand the Jordan Compact. In the context of COVID-19, this means that we must create a new normal. First and foremost, by redoubling efforts to reverse the impacts of inequality and the climate crisis,” Pedersen said.

The Jordan Compact is an agreement aimed at improving the resilience of refugees and host communities in Jordan.

Dominik Bartsch, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Representative in Jordan, noted that the return of refugees to Syria is the ultimate goal.

“While they remain in Jordan, we must ensure that sufficient opportunities are available for them, alongside Jordanians, so that they can be productive members of society,” he added.

“10 years is a very long time; 50 per cent of Syrian children have never seen their country without war. We have to keep in mind the bad effects of this on them,” Bartsch said.

Ensuring that the refugees continue to build their strength and resilience, even during the devastating impact of COVID-19 is very important, Bartsch noted.

“Jordan has been a very generous country in accepting refugees, and they included the refugees in the vaccination against COVID-19 plan, this attitude is the right approach to the international community to be able to assist refugees to make sure that they stand on their feet,” Bartsch said.

UNICEF Jordan Representative Tanya Chapuisat praised the Jordnian efforts in helping children refugees.

“Ten years on, the children of Syria have grown into the youth of Syria, while the next generation, born as refugees, continue to face uncertainty on the prospect of ever returning home. UNICEF continues to work with the government of Jordan to help all vulnerable children and youth, regardless of their status or nationality, survive and thrive. Now more than ever, after the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children’s health, wellbeing and learning, we are grateful to our supporters who continue to work with us to help prevent the occurrence of a lost generation,” she said.

The pandemic impacted education to a large extent, and caused increased poverty, which in turn increased child labour along with negative coping mechanisms such as child marriage that increased noticeably in Zaatari camp, according to Chapuisat.

Director of UNRWA Affairs Jordan Marta Lorenzo said: “For decades, the government and people of Jordan have responded with solidarity to all refugees. The Syria crisis has lasted almost twice as long as the Second World War. Palestine refugees from Syria have become double refugees, first from Palestine and then from Syria. Forced into poverty, they rely on UNRWA’s cash assistance and other services to cover their basic needs.”  

Solidarity from the international community is more urgent now than ever to help all refugees live with dignity, according to Lorenzo.

Alberto Correia Mendes, World Food Programme (WFP) Representative and Country Director in Jordan, highlighted the problem of food insecurity being a huge challenge in light of the COVID pandemic.

“Food insecurity among refugees is now the highest since the families started coming from Syria 10 years ago; according to WFP assessments, a quarter of refugees across Jordan are food insecure and 65 per cent are on the edge of food insecurity, a stark increase since the pandemic started. Families are asking their children to eat less, removing them from school, sending them to work or even to beg. We must stay the course, as families are in urgent need for support; WFP’s assistance already comprises 60 per cent of families’ total income,” Mendes said

After the month of July this year, the WFP will have no resources to continue the assistance and food services for refugees, numbering about 500,000. 

“We hope the generosity of our donors will come forward,” Mendes noted.

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